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ON THE VARIATION OF INSTINCTS AND OTHER MENTAL ATTRIBUTES UNDER DOMESTICATION AND IN STATE OF NATURE; ON THE DIFFICULTIES IN THIS SUBJECT; AND ON ANALOGOUS DIFFICULTIES WITH RESPECT TO CORPOREAL STRUCTURES

Variation of mental attributes under domestication


I have as yet only alluded to the mental qualities which differ greatly in different species. Let me here premise that, as will be seen in the Second Part, there is no evidence and consequently no attempt to show that all existing organisms have descended from any one common parent-stock, but that only those have so descended which, in the language of naturalists, are clearly related to each other. Hence the facts and reasoning advanced in this chapter do not apply to the first origin of the senses{271}, or of the chief mental attributes, such as of memory, attention, reasoning, &c., &c., by which most or all of the great related groups are characterised, any more than they apply to the first origin of life, or growth, or the power of reproduction. The application of such facts as I have collected is merely to the differences of the primary mental qualities and of the instincts in the species{272} of the {113} several great groups. In domestic animals every observer has remarked in how great a degree, in the individuals of the same species, the dispositions, namely courage, pertinacity, suspicion, restlessness, confidence, temper, pugnaciousness, affection, care of their young, sagacity, &c., &c., vary. It would require a most able metaphysician to explain how many primary qualities of the mind must be changed to cause these diversities of complex dispositions. From these dispositions being inherited, of which the testimony is unanimous, families and breeds arise, varying in these respects. I may instance the good and ill temper of different stocks of bees and of horses,—the pugnacity and courage of game fowls,—the pertinacity of certain dogs, as bull-dogs, and the sagacity of others,—for restlessness and suspicion compare a wild rabbit reared with the greatest care from its earliest age with the extreme tameness of the domestic breed of the same animal. The offspring of the domestic dogs which have run wild in Cuba{273}, though caught quite young, are most difficult to tame, probably nearly as much so as the original parent-stock from which the domestic dog descended. The habitual “periods” of different families of the same species differ, for instance, in the time of year of reproduction, and the period of life when the capacity is acquired, and the hour of roosting (in Malay fowls), &c., &c. These periodical habits are perhaps essentially corporeal, and may be compared to nearly similar habits in plants, which are known to vary extremely. Consensual movements (as called by Müller) vary and are inherited,—such as the cantering and ambling paces in horses, the tumbling of pigeons, and perhaps the handwriting, which is sometimes so similar between father {114} and sons, may be ranked in this class. Manners, and even tricks which perhaps are only peculiar manners, according to W. Hunter and my father, are distinctly inherited in cases where children have lost their parent in early infancy. The inheritance of expression, which often reveals the finest shades of character, is familiar to everyone.

Again the tastes and pleasures of different breeds vary, thus the shepherd-dog delights in chasing the sheep, but has no wish to kill them,—the terrier (see Knight) delights in killing vermin, and the spaniel in finding game. But it is impossible to separate their mental peculiarities in the way I have done: the tumbling of pigeons, which I have instanced as a consensual movement, might be called a trick and is associated with a taste for flying in a close flock at a great height. Certain breeds of fowls have a taste for roosting in trees. The different actions of pointers and setters might have been adduced in the same class, as might the peculiar manner of hunting of the spaniel. Even in the same breed of dogs, namely in fox-hounds, it is the fixed opinion of those best able to judge that the different pups are born with different tendencies; some are best to find their fox in the cover; some are apt to run straggling, some are best to make casts and to recover the lost scent, &c.; and that these peculiarities undoubtedly are transmitted to their progeny. Or again the tendency to point might be adduced as a distinct habit which has become inherited,—as might the tendency of a true sheep dog (as I have been assured is the case) to run round the flock instead of directly at them, as is the case with other young dogs when attempted to be taught. The "transandantes" sheep{274} in Spain, which for some centuries have been yearly taken a journey of several hundred miles from one province {115} to another, know when the time comes, and show the greatest restlessness (like migratory birds in confinement), and are prevented with difficulty from starting by themselves, which they sometimes do, and find their own way. There is a case on good evidence{275} of a sheep which, when she lambed, would return across a mountainous country to her own birth-place, although at other times of year not of a rambling disposition. Her lambs inherited this same disposition, and would go to produce their young on the farm whence their parent came; and so troublesome was this habit that the whole family was destroyed.

These facts must lead to the conviction, justly wonderful as it is, that almost infinitely numerous shades of disposition, of tastes, of peculiar movements, and even of individual actions, can be modified or acquired by one individual and transmitted to its offspring. One is forced to admit that mental phenomena (no doubt through their intimate connection with the brain) can be inherited, like infinitely numerous and fine differences of corporeal structure. In the same manner as peculiarities of corporeal structure slowly acquired or lost during mature life (especially cognisant «?» in disease), as well as congenital peculiarities, are transmitted; so it appears to be with the mind. The inherited paces in the horse have no doubt been acquired by compulsion during the lives of the parents: and temper and tameness may be modified in a breed by the treatment which the individuals receive. Knowing that a pig has been taught to point, one would suppose that this quality in pointer-dogs was the simple result of habit, but some facts, with respect to the occasional appearance of a similar quality in other dogs, would make one suspect that it originally {116} appeared in a less perfect degree, “by chance,” that is from a congenital tendency{276} in the parent of the breed of pointers. One cannot believe that the tumbling, and high flight in a compact body, of one breed of pigeons has been taught; and in the case of the slight differences in the manner of hunting in young fox-hounds, they are doubtless congenital. The inheritance of the foregoing and similar mental phenomena ought perhaps to create less surprise, from the reflection that in no case do individual acts of reasoning, or movements, or other phenomena connected with consciousness, appear to be transmitted. An action, even a very complicated one, when from long practice it is performed unconsciously without any effort (and indeed in the case of many peculiarities of manners opposed to the will) is said, according to a common expression, to be performed “instinctively.” Those cases of languages, and of songs, learnt in early childhood and quite forgotten, being perfectly repeated during the unconsciousness of illness, appear to me only a few degrees less wonderful than if they had been transmitted to a second generation{277}.
Hereditary habits compared with instincts.

The chief characteristics of true instincts appear to be their invariability and non-improvement during the mature age of the individual animal: the absence of knowledge of the end, for which the action is performed, being associated, however, sometimes with a degree of reason; being subject to mistakes and {117} being associated with certain states of the body or times of the year or day. In most of these respects there is a resemblance in the above detailed cases of the mental qualities acquired or modified during domestication. No doubt the instincts of wild animals are more uniform than those habits or qualities modified or recently acquired under domestication, in the same manner and from the same causes that the corporeal structure in this state is less uniform than in beings in their natural conditions. I have seen a young pointer point as fixedly, the first day it was taken out, as any old dog; Magendie says this was the case with a retriever which he himself reared: the tumbling of pigeons is not probably improved by age: we have seen that in the case above given that the young sheep inherited the migratory tendency to their particular birth-place the first time they lambed. This last fact offers an instance of a domestic instinct being associated with a state of body; as do the “transandantes” sheep with a time of year. Ordinarily the acquired instincts of domestic animals seem to require a certain degree of education (as generally in pointers and retrievers) to be perfectly developed: perhaps this holds good amongst wild animals in rather a greater degree than is generally supposed; for instance, in the singing of birds, and in the knowledge of proper herbs in Ruminants. It seems pretty clear that bees transmit knowledge from generation to generation. Lord Brougham{278} insists strongly on ignorance of the end proposed being eminently characteristic of true instincts; and this appears to me to apply to many acquired hereditary habits; for instance, in the case of the young pointer alluded to before, which pointed so steadfastly the first day that we were obliged several times to carry {118} him away{279}. This puppy not only pointed at sheep, at large white stones, and at every little bird, but likewise “backed” the other pointers: this young dog must have been as unconscious for what end he was pointing, namely to facilitate his master’s killing game to eat, as is a butterfly which lays her eggs on a cabbage, that her caterpillars would eat the leaves. So a horse that ambles instinctively, manifestly is ignorant that he performs that peculiar pace for the ease of man; and if man had never existed, he would never have ambled. The young pointer pointing at white stones appears to be as much a mistake of its acquired instinct, as in the case of flesh-flies laying their eggs on certain flowers instead of putrifying meat. However true the ignorance of the end may generally be, one sees that instincts are associated with some degree of reason; for instance, in the case of the tailor-bird, who spins threads with which to make her nest «yet» will use artificial threads when she can procure them{280}; so it has been known that an old pointer has broken his point and gone round a hedge to drive out a bird towards his master{281}.

There is one other quite distinct method by which the instincts or habits acquired under domestication may be compared with those given by nature, by a test of a fundamental kind; I mean the comparison of the mental powers of mongrels and hybrids. Now the instincts, or habits, tastes, and dispositions of one breed of animals, when crossed with another breed, for instance a shepherd-dog {119} with a harrier, are blended and appear in the same curiously mixed degree, both in the first and succeeding generations, exactly as happens when one species is crossed with another{282}. This would hardly be the case if there was any fundamental difference between the domestic and natural instinct{283}; if the former were, to use a metaphorical expression, merely superficial.
Variation in the mental attributes of wild animals.

With respect to the variation{284} of the mental powers of animals in a wild state, we know that there is a considerable difference in the disposition of different individuals of the same species, as is recognised by all those who have had the charge of animals in a menagerie. With respect to the wildness of animals, that is fear directed particularly against man, which appears to be as true an instinct as the dread of a young mouse of a cat, we have excellent evidence that it is slowly acquired and becomes hereditary. It is also certain that, in a natural state, individuals of the same species lose {120} or do not practice their migratory instincts—as woodcocks in Madeira. With respect to any variation in the more complicated instincts, it is obviously most difficult to detect, even more so than in the case of corporeal structure, of which it has been admitted the variation is exceedingly small, and perhaps scarcely any in the majority of species at any one period. Yet, to take one excellent case of instinct, namely the nests of birds, those who have paid most attention to the subject maintain that not only certain individuals «? species» seem to be able to build very imperfectly, but that a difference in skill may not unfrequently be detected between individuals{285}. Certain birds, moreover, adapt their nests to circumstances; the water-ouzel makes no vault when she builds under cover of a rock—the sparrow builds very differently when its nest is in a tree or in a hole, and the golden-crested wren sometimes suspends its nest below and sometimes places it on the branches of trees.
Principles of Selection applicable to instincts.

As the instincts of a species are fully as important to its preservation and multiplication as its corporeal structure, it is evident that if there be the slightest congenital differences in the instincts and habits, or if certain individuals during their lives are induced or compelled to vary their habits, and if such differences are in the smallest degree more favourable, under slightly modified external conditions, to their preservation, such individuals must in the long run have a better chance of being preserved and of multiplying{286}. If this be admitted, a series of small changes may, as in the case of corporeal structure, work great changes in the mental powers, habits and instincts of any species.

{121}
Difficulties in the acquirement of complex instincts by Selection.

Every one will at first be inclined to explain (as I did for a long time) that many of the more complicated and wonderful instincts could not be acquired in the manner here supposed{287}. The Second Part of this work is devoted to the general consideration of how far the general economy of nature justifies or opposes the belief that related species and genera are descended from common stocks; but we may here consider whether the instincts of animals offer such a primâ facie case of impossibility of gradual acquirement, as to justify the rejection of any such theory, however strongly it may be supported by other facts. I beg to repeat that I wish here to consider not the probability but the possibility of complicated instincts having been acquired by the slow and long-continued selection of very slight (either congenital or produced by habit) modifications of foregoing simpler instincts; each modification being as useful and necessary, to the species practising it, as the most complicated kind.

First, to take the case of birds’-nests; of existing species (almost infinitely few in comparison with the multitude which must have existed, since the period of the new Red Sandstone of N. America, of whose habits we must always remain ignorant) a tolerably perfect series could be made from eggs {122} laid on the bare ground, to others with a few sticks just laid round them, to a simple nest like the wood-pigeons, to others more and more complicated: now if, as is asserted, there occasionally exist slight differences in the building powers of an individual, and if, which is at least probable, that such differences would tend to be inherited, then we can see that it is at least possible that the nidificatory instincts may have been acquired by the gradual selection, during thousands and thousands of generations, of the eggs and young of those individuals, whose nests were in some degree better adapted to the preservation of their young, under the then existing conditions. One of the most surprising instincts on record is that of the Australian bush-turkey, whose eggs are hatched by the heat generated from a huge pile of fermenting materials, which it heaps together; but here the habits of an allied species show how this instinct might possibly have been acquired. This second species inhabits a tropical district, where the heat of the sun is sufficient to hatch its eggs; this bird, burying its eggs, apparently for concealment, under a lesser heap of rubbish, but of a dry nature, so as not to ferment. Now suppose this bird to range slowly into a climate which was cooler, and where leaves were more abundant, in that case, those individuals, which chanced to have their collecting instinct strongest developed, would make a somewhat larger pile, and the eggs, aided during some colder season, under the slightly cooler climate by the heat of incipient fermentation, would in the long run be more freely hatched and would probably produce young ones with the same more highly developed collecting tendencies; of these again, those with the best developed powers would again tend to rear most young. Thus this strange instinct might possibly be acquired, every individual bird being {123} as ignorant of the laws of fermentation, and the consequent development of heat, as we know they must be.

Secondly, to take the case of animals feigning death (as it is commonly expressed) to escape danger. In the case of insects, a perfect series can be shown, from some insects, which momentarily stand still, to others which for a second slightly contract their legs, to others which will remain immovably drawn together for a quarter of an hour, and may be torn asunder or roasted at a slow fire, without evincing the smallest sign of sensation. No one will doubt that the length of time, during which each remains immovable, is well adapted to «favour the insect’s» escape «from» the dangers to which it is most exposed, and few will deny the possibility of the change from one degree to another, by the means and at the rate already explained. Thinking it, however, wonderful (though not impossible) that the attitude of death should have been acquired by methods which imply no imitation, I compared several species, when feigning, as is said, death, with others of the same species really dead, and their attitudes were in no one case the same.

Thirdly, in considering many instincts it is useful to endeavour to separate the faculty{288} by which they perform it, and the mental power which urges to the performance, which is more properly called an instinct. We have an instinct to eat, we have jaws &c. to give us the faculty to do so. These faculties are often unknown to us: bats, with their eyes destroyed, can avoid strings suspended across a room, we know not at present by what faculty they do this. Thus also, with migratory birds, it is a {124} wonderful instinct which urges them at certain times of the year to direct their course in certain directions, but it is a faculty by which they know the time and find their way. With respect to time{289}, man without seeing the sun can judge to a certain extent of the hour, as must those cattle which come down from the inland mountains to feed on sea-weed left bare at the changing hour of low-water{290}. A hawk (D’Orbigny) seems certainly to have acquired a knowledge of a period of every 21 days. In the cases already given of the sheep which travelled to their birth-place to cast their lambs, and the sheep in Spain which know their time of march{291}, we may conjecture that the tendency to move is associated, we may then call it instinctively, with some corporeal sensations. With respect to direction we can easily conceive how a tendency to travel in a certain course may possibly have been acquired, although we must remain ignorant how birds are able to preserve any direction whatever in a dark night over the wide ocean. I may observe that the power of some savage races of mankind to find their way, although perhaps wholly different from the faculty of birds, is nearly as unintelligible to us. Bellinghausen, a skilful navigator, describes with the utmost wonder the manner in which some Esquimaux guided him to a certain point, by a course never straight, through newly formed hummocks of ice, on a thick foggy day, when he with a compass found it impossible, from having no landmarks, and from their course being so extremely crooked, to preserve any sort of uniform {125} direction: so it is with Australian savages in thick forests. In North and South America many birds slowly travel northward and southward, urged on by the food they find, as the seasons change; let them continue to do this, till, as in the case of the sheep in Spain, it has become an urgent instinctive desire, and they will gradually accelerate their journey. They would cross narrow rivers, and if these were converted by subsidence into narrow estuaries, and gradually during centuries to arms of the sea, still we may suppose their restless desire of travelling onwards would impel them to cross such an arm, even if it had become of great width beyond their span of vision. How they are able to preserve a course in any direction, I have said, is a faculty unknown to us. To give another illustration of the means by which I conceive it possible that the direction of migrations have been determined. Elk and reindeer in N. America annually cross, as if they could marvellously smell or see at the distance of a hundred miles, a wide tract of absolute desert, to arrive at certain islands where there is a scanty supply of food; the changes of temperature, which geology proclaims, render it probable that this desert tract formerly supported some vegetation, and thus these quadrupeds might have been annually led on, till they reached the more fertile spots, and so acquired, like the sheep of Spain, their migratory powers.

Fourthly, with respect to the combs of the hive-bee{292}; here again we must look to some faculty or means by which they make their hexagonal cells, without indeed we view these instincts as mere machines. At present such a faculty is quite unknown: Mr Waterhouse supposes that several bees are led by their instinct to excavate a mass of wax to a certain thinness, and that the result of this{126} is that hexagons necessarily remain. Whether this or some other theory be true, some such means they must possess. They abound, however, with true instincts, which are the most wonderful that are known. If we examine the little that is known concerning the habits of other species of bees, we find much simpler instincts: the humble bee merely fills rude balls of wax with honey and aggregates them together with little order in a rough nest of grass. If we knew the instinct of all the bees, which ever had existed, it is not improbable that we should have instincts of every degree of complexity, from actions as simple as a bird making a nest, and rearing her young, to the wonderful architecture and government of the hive-bee; at least such is possible, which is all that I am here considering.

Finally, I will briefly consider under the same point of view one other class of instincts, which have often been advanced as truly wonderful, namely parents bringing food to their young which they themselves neither like nor partake of{293};—for instance, the common sparrow, a granivorous bird, feeding its young with caterpillars. We might of course look into the case still earlier, and seek how an instinct in the parent, of feeding its young at all, was first derived; but it is useless to waste time in conjectures on a series of gradations from the young feeding themselves and being slightly and occasionally assisted in their search, to their entire food being brought to them. With respect to the parent bringing a different kind of food from its own kind, we may suppose either that the remote stock, whence the sparrow and other congenerous birds have descended, was insectivorous, and that its own habits and structure have been changed, whilst its ancient instincts with respect to its young have remained {127} unchanged; or we may suppose that the parents have been induced to vary slightly the food of their young, by a slight scarcity of the proper kind (or by the instincts of some individuals not being so truly developed), and in this case those young which were most capable of surviving were necessarily most often preserved, and would themselves in time become parents, and would be similarly compelled to alter their food for their young. In the case of those animals, the young of which feed themselves, changes in their instincts for food, and in their structure, might be selected from slight variations, just as in mature animals. Again, where the food of the young depends on where the mother places her eggs, as in the case of the caterpillars of the cabbage-butterfly, we may suppose that the parent stock of the species deposited her eggs sometimes on one kind and sometimes on another of congenerous plants (as some species now do), and if the cabbage suited the caterpillars better than any other plant, the caterpillars of those butterflies, which had chosen the cabbage, would be most plentifully reared, and would produce butterflies more apt to lay their eggs on the cabbage than on the other congenerous plants.

However vague and unphilosophical these conjectures may appear, they serve, I think, to show that one’s first impulse utterly to reject any theory whatever, implying a gradual acquirement of these instincts, which for ages have excited man’s admiration, may at least be delayed. Once grant that dispositions, tastes, actions or habits can be slightly modified, either by slight congenital differences (we must suppose in the brain) or by the force of external circumstances, and that such slight modifications can be rendered inheritable,—a proposition which no one can reject,—and it will be difficult to put any limit to the complexity and wonder of {128} the tastes and habits which may possibly be thus acquired.
Difficulties in the acquirement by Selection of complex corporeal structures.

After the past discussion it will perhaps be convenient here to consider whether any particular corporeal organs, or the entire structure of any animals, are so wonderful as to justify the rejection primâ facie of our theory{294}. In the case of the eye, as with the more complicated instincts, no doubt one’s first impulse is to utterly reject every such theory. But if the eye from its most complicated form can be shown to graduate into an exceedingly simple state,—if selection can produce the smallest change, and if such a series exists, then it is clear (for in this work we have nothing to do with the first origin of organs in their simplest forms{295}) that it may possibly have been acquired by gradual selection of slight, but in each case, useful deviations{296}. Every naturalist, when he meets with any new and singular organ, always expects to find, and looks for, other and simpler modifications of it in other beings. In the case of the eye, we have a multitude of different forms, more or less simple, not graduating {129} into each other, but separated by sudden gaps or intervals; but we must recollect how incomparably greater would the multitude of visual structures be if we had the eyes of every fossil which ever existed. We shall discuss the probable vast proportion of the extinct to the recent in the succeeding Part. Notwithstanding the large series of existing forms, it is most difficult even to conjecture by what intermediate stages very many simple organs could possibly have graduated into complex ones: but it should be here borne in mind, that a part having originally a wholly different function, may on the theory of gradual selection be slowly worked into quite another use; the gradations of forms, from which naturalists believe in the hypothetical metamorphosis of part of the ear into the swimming bladder in fishes{297}, and in insects of legs into jaws, show the manner in which this is possible. As under domestication, modifications of structure take place, without any continued selection, which man finds very useful, or valuable for curiosity (as the hooked calyx of the teazle, or the ruff round some pigeons’ necks), so in a state of nature some small modifications, apparently beautifully adapted to certain ends, may perhaps be produced from the accidents of the reproductive system, and be at once propagated without long-continued selection of small deviations towards that structure{298}. In conjecturing by what stages any complicated organ in a species may have arrived at its present state, although we may look to the analogous organs in other existing species, we should do this merely to aid and guide our imaginations; for to know the real stages we {130} must look only through one line of species, to one ancient stock, from which the species in question has descended. In considering the eye of a quadruped, for instance, though we may look at the eye of a molluscous animal or of an insect, as a proof how simple an organ will serve some of the ends of vision; and at the eye of a fish as a nearer guide of the manner of simplification; we must remember that it is a mere chance (assuming for a moment the truth of our theory) if any existing organic being has preserved any one organ, in exactly the same condition, as it existed in the ancient species at remote geological periods.

The nature or condition of certain structures has been thought by some naturalists to be of no use to the possessor{299}, but to have been formed wholly for the good of other species; thus certain fruit and seeds have been thought to have been made nutritious for certain animals—numbers of insects, especially in their larval state, to exist for the same end—certain fish to be bright coloured to aid certain birds of prey in catching them, &c. Now could this be proved (which I am far from admitting) the theory of natural selection would be quite overthrown; for it is evident that selection depending on the advantage over others of one individual with some slight deviation would never produce a structure or quality profitable only to another species. No doubt one being takes advantage of qualities in another, and may even cause its extermination; but this is far from proving that this quality was produced for such an end. It may be advantageous to a plant to have its seeds attractive to animals, if one out of a hundred or a thousand escapes being {131} digested, and thus aids dissemination: the bright colours of a fish may be of some advantage to it, or more probably may result from exposure to certain conditions in favourable haunts for food, notwithstanding it becomes subject to be caught more easily by certain birds.

If instead of looking, as above, at certain individual organs, in order to speculate on the stages by which their parts have been matured and selected, we consider an individual animal, we meet with the same or greater difficulty, but which, I believe, as in the case of single organs, rests entirely on our ignorance. It may be asked by what intermediate forms could, for instance, a bat possibly have passed; but the same question might have been asked with respect to the seal, if we had not been familiar with the otter and other semi-aquatic carnivorous quadrupeds. But in the case of the bat, who can say what might have been the habits of some parent form with less developed wings, when we now have insectivorous opossums and herbivorous squirrels fitted for merely gliding through the air{300}. One species of bat is at present partly aquatic in its habits{301}. Woodpeckers and tree-frogs are especially adapted, as their names express, for climbing trees; yet we have species of both inhabiting the open plains of La Plata, where a tree does not exist{302}. I might argue from this circumstance that a structure eminently fitted for climbing trees might descend from forms inhabiting a country where a tree {132} did not exist. Notwithstanding these and a multitude of other well-known facts, it has been maintained by several authors that one species, for instance of the carnivorous order, could not pass into another, for instance into an otter, because in its transitional state its habits would not be adapted to any proper conditions of life; but the jaguar{303} is a thoroughly terrestrial quadruped in its structure, yet it takes freely to the water and catches many fish; will it be said that it is impossible that the conditions of its country might become such that the jaguar should be driven to feed more on fish than they now do; and in that case is it impossible, is it not probable, that any the slightest deviation in its instincts, its form of body, in the width of its feet, and in the extension of the skin (which already unites the base of its toes) would give such individuals a better chance of surviving and propagating young with similar, barely perceptible (though thoroughly exercised), deviations{304}? Who will say what could thus be effected in the course of ten thousand generations? Who can answer the same question with respect to instincts? If no one can, the possibility (for we are not in this chapter considering the probability) of simple organs or organic beings being modified by natural selection and the effects of external agencies into complicated ones ought not to be absolutely rejected.


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